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Communicator is key, VP candidate says

BY PARKER SMITH | NOVEMBER 11, 2009 7:20 AM

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Sandra Conn thinks verbally.

Conn, the UI’s second candidate for vice president for strategic communication, said she’s great at working with words — whether as a writer or in public relations.

The chief creative officer at the University of Alberta in Canada, Conn detailed her experience in communications during a public forum on Tuesday.

“Communication is free,” Conn said. “It comes out of your mouth.”

Before assuming her current role in July, Conn was vice president of external relations at the University of Alberta for three years. She has held similar communications positions at Michigan State University and Indiana University.

Banking on Canadian humor during one response, Conn took several anonymous questions from audience members.

In response to concerns that some UI officials are overpaid, underworked, and too liberal, Conn said she would focus on informing people about what the university does for Iowans.

But Conn had less to say about the claims of administrators being overpaid.

“Paid too much, eh, that’s a hard one,” she said, before moving on to joke about the liberal component.

During her presentation, Conn talked in terms of “them” and “us” — with the “us” being UI administrators, and the “them” representing other university constituents and regular Iowans.

UI officials need to communicate in an authentic way to people outside the administration who “don’t talk like ‘us,’ ” she said.

“We value research, they value service,” Conn said.

She also emphasized the need for a central institutional voice and said the UI needs to better identify its goals to “get us back to one university.”

In response to reader comments posted on The Daily Iowan’s website that equate the position to a professional spin doctor and say UI President Sally Mason should handle her own public relations, Conn disagreed.

She said the vice president for strategic communication — not the president — should be the ambassador of the university.

“Sally Mason wouldn’t want to be the primary communicator for the university. That would be a misdirection of her talents,” Conn said. “A good president needs an outstanding professional team. They can’t be an expert in every area.”

UI spokesman Tom Moore iterated the UI’s need for an official to oversee communications efforts.
Terry Denbow, vice president of university relations at Michigan State University, said Conn would bring experience, wisdom, and smarts to any strategic communications position.

“Sandra Conn knows how to integrate messages into a total brand approach,” Denbow said. “She is innovative and creative and brought a lot to Michigan State, strategically and tactically.”

The UI’s third candidate for the position, Tysen Kendig, associate vice chancellor for university relations at the University of Arkansas, will attend a public forum today at 11:15 a.m. in S401 Pappajohn Business Building.

Kendig is a graduate of Penn State University and was previously assistant director of public information at Penn State University. Prior to that position, he was associate director of public relations at Rider University.


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